Crowded stores, people bumping into each other, plenty of distractions, a lot of credit cards being flashed and money changing hands. For most of us it’s the start of the holiday shopping season, but for pickpockets and identity thieves it’s like Christmas. Here is advice to keep your family, your packages and your credit safe. This advice is compiled from law enforcement, the Better Business Bureau, professional crime prevention organizations and identity theft protection services.
Outside the store
1. Always lock your car doors, even if you are just planning to make it a quick stop.
2. Park in well-lit areas. Even if it’s daytime, park near lamp posts — it will make finding your car easier and offer protection if your shopping trip lasts past nightfall.
3. Avoid parking next to vehicles with dark, tinted windows.
4. Have your car keys in hand before you walk through the parking lot.
5. Be aware of your surroundings and anyone who may be following you. Don’t focus on your smartphone or listen to an iPod or other music player, because these can distract you from being aware of your surroundings.
Inside the store
6. Avoid bringing a lot of cash. Plan on paying with a credit card or check.
7. Take anything you don’t need out of your wallet. Pack only the credit cards and loyalty cards you intend to use and your driver’s license. You’re minimizing what can be stolen or lost.
8. If you must have a purse instead of just carrying a wallet:
- Never put it in your shopping cart or let it leave your person;
use a purse with a long strap you can sling across your body, making it impossible to pull off of you;
- Some viewers said they pass the cart’s child safety belt through the purse strap;
- Ideally, use a purse with a flap that goes over the top — which are harder for thieves to get into than a purse that clasps or zips at the top;
- Keep your purse fastened or zipped until you’re making payment at the checkout.
9. Beware anyone approaching you for any reason. “Con artists may try various methods of distracting you with the intention of taking your money or your belongings,” The American Crime Prevention Institute cautioned. One tactic is to work in pairs: One strikes up a conversation to distract the victim while the other takes the purse from the cart.
10. Keep your credit card in sight. With touchpads commonplace at checkouts, a clerk should not have to take your card out of your sight. Don’t let yourself be distracted while checking out; identity thieves may take the opportunity to look at your card number or watch you type in your PIN.
11. See something, say something. Notify a security guard or store employee if you see packages left unattended. There are terrorism concerns, but you could also make a family very happy to learn their packages are at Lost & Found and weren’t whisked away by a thief.
12. The name “doorbusters” is associated with Black Friday sales for a reason. When the doors open, that long line of people waiting for big sales can turn into a stampede. Expect this and be prepared.
13. Wear shoes that give you good footing to avoid slips and falls.
14. Go in as a group; family and friends can help you up quickly if you stumble.
15. Carry a cell phone in case you need to call for help or get separated from your group.
16. Avoid confrontation. Remember there will be more opportunities to shop, more deals to be had, and one disorderly conduct ticket could wipe out any savings you would’ve had from a Black Friday sale.
Shopping with children
17. If shopping with children, decide on a meeting place in case you get separated. Do not make this meeting place near the doors or the restrooms. Do not choose a meeting place that is likely to be busy (e.g., the electronics department).
18. Teach younger children to identify store employees (e.g., point out people without coats who are wearing shirts in store colors or working behind cash registers) and other people they can easily identify and go to for help, including security guards and mothers shopping with children.
Deliveries and “Porch Pirates”
19. More retail chains, including Target, Meijer and others, offer in-store or curbside pick-up or local deliveries for orders online. Some orders may give you same-day pick-up or delivery. You enjoy the convenience of shopping online without the risk of package thieves.
20. Take advantage of package tracking. Check often until you receive your package. If shipping from a store, ask if they offer package tracking.
21. If you know you won’t be home during delivery times, have the package shipped to your workplace or the home of a trusted neighbor, relative or friend who you know will be home. Because of the chance for theft, delivery services usually won’t acknowledge a note taped to your door asking you to change the delivery destination. Delivery services may let you divert a package before the first delivery attempt or pick up the package at select locations, including UPS Stores or Walgreens.
- For US Postal Service delivery change options, click here
- For UPS delivery options, click here
- For FedEx delivery options, click here
22. Ask the delivery service to put packages where they aren’t easily seen by others, such as the back door.
23. Consider purchasing a security camera or video doorbell to keep an eye on your front stoop. Cameras have come down significantly in price and while improving in quality and features. They can alert you when motion is detected on your porch and send pictures and video to your computer or your smartphone.
24. Consider using a digital wallet, such as Apple Pay or Google Pay. While there’s a lot of worry about security, wallet apps use an even stronger encryption than credit cards with chips. Use two-factor authentication, such as a 4-digit passcode with your fingerprint or face scan.
25. Check your credit card and bank accounts online after a shopping trip as well as your monthly statement. This will help you catch any fraudulent or questionable charges sooner.